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Retail Watch: New food, books and activities to kick off your summer around the Lehigh Valley

  • Bibi's Tiffin owner Sonia Bhamra and son Guruveer Bhamra, vice...

    Bibi's Tiffin owner Sonia Bhamra and son Guruveer Bhamra, vice president of Bibi's Tiffin, pose in the Indian restaurant’s new second location Friday, June 7, 2024, in Breinigsville. (April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Butter chicken with naan bread, samosas and onion bhaji are...

    Butter chicken with naan bread, samosas and onion bhaji are popular items are seen Friday, June 7, 2024, at Bibi's Tiffin's new location in Breinigsville.(April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Exterior seen on Friday, June 7, 2024, at Bibi's Tiffin's...

    Exterior seen on Friday, June 7, 2024, at Bibi's Tiffin's new second location in Breinigsville.(April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Butter chicken with naan bread, samosas and onion bhaji are...

    Butter chicken with naan bread, samosas and onion bhaji are popular items are seen Friday, June 7, 2024, at Bibi's Tiffin's new second location in Breinigsville.(April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

  • Butter chicken with naan bread, samosas and onion bhaji are...

    Butter chicken with naan bread, samosas and onion bhaji are popular items are seen Friday, June 7, 2024, at Bibi's Tiffin's new second location in Breinigsville.(April Gamiz/첥Ƶ)

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Summer is upon us in the Lehigh Valley, and if retail and dining news are any indication, shoppers and eaters are eager to try lots of new things.

First off, Sonia Bhamra’s popular Indian street food concept, Bibi’s Tiffin, is opening its second location at 1044 Trexlertown Road, Suite 105 in Upper Macungie Township. Bibi’s Tiffin’s soft opening will be June 14, featuring the restaurant’s most popular dishes at half off.

Bhamra said the restaurant will be a reflection of her childhood memories with her grandmother, who she called Bibi and after whom the restaurant is named. “The decor is inspired by a peacock theme,” she said. “When we used to go to her house for summer vacation, her village had peacocks roaming around.”

Bhamra is excited for the new space, which she says will now include two tandoors, or ovens, to make the restaurant’s signature chicken dishes.

Diners who’ve had Bhamra’s flavorful fare at her first location, at 2501 Willow Park Road in Bethlehem, will find the menu familiar. Her soft opening menu will include a limited sneak peek of the full menu. Appetizers will include onion bhaji (fried onions in chickpea flour); chhole bhature (deep fried, puffy bread with a chickpea curry); samosas; and chaats, an umbrella term for street snacks that combine lentils, yogurt, herbs, and veggies. The dinner menu will take advantage of the extra tandoor, with chicken tikka and butter chicken for meat-eaters and dal makhani (a creamy lentil dish) for vegetarians.

Bhamra’s soft opening will accept walk-ins, but for next weekend’s Father’s Day celebrations, she’ll be requiring reservations.

In other food news, Downtown Allentown Market announced that it was shuffling up its offerings. Three restaurants will be debuting in the market this summer: Mis Raices, a Colombian eatery that already has a restaurant and bakery at 2915 Schoenersville Road in Bethlehem, will be opening on Monday; Grab N’Go, which will offer (as you might have guessed) grab and go breakfast and lunch, is scheduled to open in July; and Bo Sai, which will serve Southeast noodle soups, will open by July as well.

The shakeup also includes the closure of Pasta & Pies.

The market is revamping its offerings after it announced shorter, earlier hours to reflect its customer base of office workers in March. The food hall has been open 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday since April 1; at the time of the announcement, Latin American restaurant Casa Criolla and Bar 1838 shut down. Soon afterwards, sushi spot Randevoo (which had just opened in January) and French-Thai fusion La Kang Thai Eatery also left.

The market has struggled since its opening in late 2019, first with the coronavirus pandemic, then with serving its demographic. Its new tenants indicate a focus on lighter, more morning/afternoon friendly food, as opposed to the drinks and dinner fare that had been part of the market’s offerings when it first opened.

Sai Kham, the owner of Bo Sai, said he’ll be offering sushi, noodle soups and fresh fruit influenced by his native Southeast Asia. “Thai noodle soups are similar to Vietnamese noodle soups but really aren’t the same,” he said. Dishes will cost between $10 and $13, with vegetarian, seafood and meat options available. Kham said he’s excited to offer fresh sushi specials each week as well as the season’s bounty of cut fruit for a refreshing take on dessert.

Mis Raices is opening its second location of the year, a fact that thrills co-owner Laura Rativa. The American-Colombian menu will feature pancakes, eggs benedict, omelettes and French toast, as well as Colombian favorites like saucy French fries with chorizo and traditional Colombian pastries for those with a sweet tooth.

Grab N’Go will be offering pre-packaged, freshly made sandwiches and salads. The eatery will also be offering snacks, yogurt, and coffee, and vegan options, and expects to open on July 1.

Will the new tenants work in encouraging Downtown Allentown Market’s new strategy of daytime food traffic? Time will tell.

Two very different book retailers had big announcements this week. In January, I reported on Let’s Play Books considering shutting down. In a happy ending, that’s not happening: The Emmaus storefront, at 244 Main St., will be transitioning into becoming an event and office space come June 23; the company’s second location, The End: a bookstore at 3055 Tilghman St. in South Whitehall Township, will serve as the company’s primary retail storefront.

It’s a huge relief for owner Kirsten Hess, who had told me back in January when Let’s Play Books was gearing up for its 10th anniversary that she wasn’t sure whether the Lehigh Valley bookworm mecca would remain open. Part of that was because Hess had such a strong emotional attachment to the Emmaus location.

“So much was connected to the physical location in Emmaus for me,” Hess said. “But as soon as we evaluated everything from an objective point of view and asked what the customers really want, the storefront at Emmaus is not it.”

Instead, it’s The End, which has attracted a fantastic amount of business and is expanding its selection (after it celebrates its first birthday in July) and hours (in October, just in time for cozy reading season).

That doesn’t mean the Emmaus location is disappearing. The space will continue to be used, though not for shopping. Hess is especially excited to use the space as an event venue for authors, allowing her to fulfill her company’s mission of increasing literacy. In the past few months, Hess has put five authors in area schools — “That’s thousands of children instead of the 20 people our space can hold,” she said — and hopes to ramp up author events to continue to encourage reading across all ages.

The optimism Hess has is far different from her worry in January, and she’s pleased with how things turned out. “It feels positive,” she said. “Let’s Play Books is my baby and we’re still doing exactly what we want to.”

The other book news in the area is the upcoming re-opening 9 a.m. on Wednesday of the renovated Barnes & Noble  at the Lehigh Valley Mall’s Lifestyle Center. The store is re-opening after temporarily shutting down and moving to the first floor of the mall last year and is regaining its original space, now next to Cheesecake Factory.

The store is making a splash with its opening by inviting award-winning author James McBride for a ribbon cutting and book signing (bookworms will know his critically acclaimed book from last year, The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store).

Last month, I spoke to Janine Flanigin, senior director of store planning and design at the brand, for a preview of what customers can expect. Besides “new fixtures, furniture, flooring and paint colors,” Flanigin said there will be an expanded game selection as well as a new “room” layout organized by genre, each with suggested titles and curated picks for shoppers to browse through. “So you might enter the fiction room, which leads to the mystery room, and which then leads to the romance room,” she said. Each room’s decor will be different, further allowing readers to feel a part of that genre, giving a whole new meaning to getting lost in a book.

Need time to yourself? A new concept for babysitting and daycare might help. Roots to Wings Play just opened at 2224 Industrial Drive in Bethlehem, where owner Nicole Conley offers a “drop in” child care service that ranges from hourly to daily rates. “It’s useful for parents who have sudden meetings or a doctor’s appointment, or maybe they’re on a waitlist for another day care,” she said. Walk-in rates start at $11 per hour, and Conley offers a membership which allows parents to pre-pay for multiple hours of child care at lower rates (15 hours of childcare go for $135, for example; other packages are available). Registration is a flat $25 fee.

Roots to Wings Play also offers a “stay and play” space that allows parents to not only be able to view their children from all angles, but hang out with other parents. “It’s an opportunity for parents to feel relaxed, know their kids are safe, and have adult conversation,” Conley said.

She’s particularly excited about the “stay and play” option, which she is planning to expand over the next few months to include lectures from local child care experts (on safe bedsharing, for example) as well as more fun activities where parents can hang out with other parents while an employee takes care of children. It’s something that Conley said she wishes she had when she moved here with kids.

“When I needed to do training days or had to work holidays, there was no one to watch my children,” she said. “I didn’t have family or friends nearby to whom I could say, ‘Can you watch my children for a little bit?’”

Conley also saw how difficult it was for parents to get time to themselves and have friends who not only had kids but to talk about more adult topics. She designed the space so that parents can always see their children from their vantage point: smack in the middle of a 1,000-square-foot room with benches and an open area where kids can’t hide.

Conley will obtain full licensing by next month, at which time she hopes to be able to host up to 22 kids.

If you’re interested, contact Conley via email at rootstowingsplaypa@gmail.com or phone at 610-596-8577. You can also follow @rootstowingsplay on Instagram.

Briefly:

Purr Haus, the area’s only cat boutique at 27 Seventh St. in Emmaus, announced that it would continue to showcase cats in need of homes, after owner Laurie Mason Schroeder had dangled the option of having to shut down the store during weekdays. One hundred community members rallied and bought $10 gift cards to keep Purr Haus open, a fact that has moved Schroeder. “I was really surprised and humbled by the response,” Schroeder said. “It was a much-needed boost at a time when small business are going through a tough time.” Happily, this also means that cats that are in need of foster homes will continue to be highlighted by Schroeder in her frequent social media posts and appearances.

Wicked Sweet owner Jessica Pelletier announced early last week that she would be temporarily shutting down her beloved bakery at 3010 S. Second St. in Whitehall after experiencing two heart attacks. On doctor’s orders, she’s taking a break for the month of June, “binge watching some awful reality TV while letting my heart heal.” Pelletier can’t wait to return to the shop: “I’m not done for good. I’ll be back.”

On a personal note: This is my last column. I have learned so much over the last six months here about the community and businesses that are striving to make the Lehigh Valley a diverse place to shop and eat, and I’m grateful to the business owners and sources that made time to chat with me. Readers can still send tips to retailwatch@mcall.com. I’ll continue reading Retail Watch and checking out the new places that are popping up in the area — see you around!

Retail Watch is a weekly column covering retail and restaurant news in the Lehigh Valley. Have a question, tip, or want to see something in the area? Email Retail Watch at retailwatch@mcall.com.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct date for Bibi Tiffin’s reopening.

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